We the Common — the third studio album from Bay Area-based folk-pop singer Thao Nguyen and her band — has the spirit of a campfire or maybe a church social or a living-room sing-along: you know, the kind that happens late at night or early in the morning, when the house party's wound down and all that remains is a small group of people who really like each other — drunk, a bit delirious, singing at the top of their lungs. Which is to say there's a levity here, a looseness, the feeling that We the Common was created quickly and easily and for the fun of it.
The irony — and, indeed, the genius — is, of course, the fact that We the Common was almost certainly not tossed-off in any way, having been anticipated for months, in the works for probably years, and created by an ambitious, dedicated musician of the NPR-approved, Joanna-Newsom-collaborating-with variety. If you listen closely, you really can hear all that hard work: in the delicate guitar melody of "Kindness Be Conceived" (the aforementioned Newsom duet), and the controlled wallop of album standout "Holy Roller"; in the taut, deliberate verses and the clamorous, spontaneous refrains and, especially, in the moments where the former deftly and sharply transitions into the latter.
It's hard to make an album sound this easy; We the Common is far and away Thao & the Get Down Stay Down's best record yet. (Ribbon Music)